Gantz’s term

The decision to extend the tenure of IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz by one year was hardly a surprise.

Gantz during tour of Golan 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gantz during tour of Golan 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
The decision to extend the tenure of IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz by one year was hardly a surprise. It was indeed largely taken as a formality.
Gantz is regarded as a successful IDF commander, quiet, capable, assured and assuring, with a great deal of respect and esteem both inside the military hierarchy and in civilian quarters. He is considered one of the better security sector appointments of recent years.
There was no reason he would be deprived of the extra year, especially as, in addition to his undoubted professional attributes, he has not made any political enemies of the sort who might have attempted to stymie the tenure extension. His relations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and with his immediate boss, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, are reported to be excellent.
This is vastly different from how it was for Ya’alon himself a decade ago when he served as IDF chief of staff. Although the top position is theoretically outside the realm of political conflicts, it is, in reality, hardly immune from them. It was widely known that Ya’alon was no fan (to resort to understatement) of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement scheme.
Ya’alon pointed to the military dangers it entailed for Israel – particularly in abandoning the Philadelphi Corridor and thereby facilitating massive missile smuggling into Gaza, and the derivative endangerment of Israeli civilians both in the direct proximity and much farther away.
Sharon didn’t relish hearing Ya’alon’s cautionary messages and deprived Ya’alon of the fourth year that is tacked on almost automatically to the three-year chief of staff tenure. Sharon replaced Ya’alon with Dan Halutz (who had to quit early after the Second Lebanon War fiasco) and it was obvious that Ya’alon had been punished.
By the time Gabi Ashkenazi was appointed chief of staff in 2007, the widespread opinion was that the three-year tenure is ridiculously short and allows little time for the latest appointee to settle into office before he becomes a lame duck. It takes some 12 to 18 months before the new chief of staff establishes his position and implements his ideas. Yet once that happens, he is already regarded as a has-been, soon to be replaced.
Ashkenazi, therefore, was appointed to a four-year term straight off. It was the first time ever in the IDF history. The fly in the ointment, however, was that then-defense minister Ehud Barak and Ashkenazi didn’t get along – to say the least.
So Barak, under whose aegis Gantz too was appointed, insisted on returning to the three-year pattern. The ultra-short term serves as a whip wielded against stiffnecked chiefs such as Ya’alon or Ashkenazi. It is plainly aimed at ensuring that the defense minister will not face too independent an IDF commander.
That is the only reason Gantz did not initially get a four-year appointment.
But such skewed circumstances should not be what limits the basic tenure to three years. It is bad for the chief of staff, it is bad for the IDF and it is bad for the country. It makes no objective or valid sense.
The contest for who will replace Gantz will not, in any case, begin a year from now, when his extension ends. It is on already – undisguised and in full force, something that must hurt Gantz’s authority.
THERE IS no earthly reason why the chief of staff’s tenure should be so much shorter than that of the other top security sector appointees – the heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). The latter serve for a minimum of five years each. Even if for whatever reason it is thought that the chief of staff should not serve as long as the Mossad chief, for example, the basic tenure he should start out with should be four years.
Not only is his tenure too short, the fact that he is at least theoretically subject to the whims of the defense minister is not healthy. This is an embarrassing farce that would be best ended – the sooner the better.